This is one of those films that just draws you in. It starts out slowly, with a pan up the broken, casted leg of Jimmy Stewart, before scanning the boring, limited one-room New York studio that is his world, and has been for the past six weeks. Stewart, we learn, is a photojournalist, who's been everywhere, done it all and is always looking for the next big assignment/adventure. He sees most of his life through a lens.
That's why it's not so great a leap for him to try to assuage his boredom by looking out his rear window at the courtyard and into the conveniently unrestricted windows of his apartment building.
The large, open windows give a panoramic view of his neighbors' kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. The summer heat has many of those windows open, so sounds as well as scenes often pour out. He's become familiar with their habits and patterns, and even given some of them nicknames.
His only company are his daily visits from his insurance company nurse, played by the great character actress Thelma Ritter, and his nightly visits from his would-be fiancee, the luminous Grace Kelly.
When the invalid wife of one of the neighbors suddenly disappears from the window, Grace, Jimmy and Thelma speculate on her whereabouts, eventually convincing themselves that her husband - Raymond Burr, who barely has ten lines in the play - has killed her.
Although Thelma and Grace both claim disapproval of Stewart's voyeurism, they're easily drawn into the worlds inside the neighbors' windows.
Hitchcock draws out the tension, pulling us in with the trio, in spite of all reasonable explanation to the contrary.